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December 17th, 2003 KELLY CLARKE | Bite Club
 

The MIGHTY Bartini

     
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When Bartini (2108 NW Glisan St., 224-7919), Northwest 21st Avenue's newest bar, opened a few weeks ago, it proclaimed itself the city's only "true" martini bar. Proof? A menu of more than 100 gin, vodka, champagne and other martinis, perhaps the longest list in town.

Last week, bolstered by WW staff and honorary Biters (hereafter identified only by first name and occupation) we set out to drink our way though that massive list--and to chronicle our victorious float across the sea of Tanqueray and Grey Goose in this very column.

Or not. Eighteen martinis later, the Bite Club is having trouble even remembering what we wore that night. So we're reporting only a selected rundown of a martini-sloshed night. Then we're gonna go lie down with another ice-cold drink: water. A perfect antidote for a Bartini-sized hangover.

6 pm: With its Wet-'n'-Wild slick black walls and futuristic clear plastic fans, Bartini looks like James Bond's garage. David, an art salesman, downs Martini No. 1: Bombay Sapphire gin. It's equally crisp and clean.

6:15 pm: Owner Mark Byrum stops by our table. A licensed sommelier and food-industry lifer, Byrum has opened two nightspots in the past six months. First, Old Town's singles scene Voodoo Lounge in July, and now Bartini.

Paul, a music executive, tries Martini No. 2: vodka, Frangelico and bourbon-swirled Goldentini. A "manly martini," he claims, that when sipped feels as if "someone is cramming Tootsie Rolls up your nose."

6:25 pm: Jenny, a comptroller, approves of both the girly, champagne-spiked Sweet Nasturtium, Martini No. 4, and aromatic Rosetini, Martini No. 6.

Byrum, who makes Bartini's "Martinis from the Garden" infusions out of herbs and flowers, says he once tried to mix vodka with smoked salmon, red onions and capers. As you might imagine, this combination didn't turn out.

7 pm: "Wow, this smells like stripper," Bite Club says, tasting Martini No. 9, the melon liqueur-soaked Cocomelontini. A fierce discussion ensues among the crew in an attempt to define the olfactory trademark of exotic dancers.

7:17 pm: A mix of Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion and sweat.

8 pm: Bite Club orders Bartini's smartest idea: a four-course prix fixe menu ($28) that pairs dinner with "mini martinis." Byrum says he looks for alcohol flavors that are "accents and mirrors" for different foods, such as an orange-and mint-infused rum, Martini No. 10, paired with seared scallops and ruby grapefruit.

Bite Club and crew discuss this concept while sipping tiny glasses of spicy lemongrass- and ginger-infused vodka, Martini No. 12, and popping salty Manchego cheese-stuffed olives.

8:14 pm: Erica, a pharmaceutical-industry recruiter, has an idea: "Why doesn't Mark Byrum make Ecstasy-infused vodka?" We ponder this silently.

8:50 pm: Intrepid reporter Bite Club asks Byrum: Who do you think you are charging Portlanders an average of $9 to $12 for a martini? "Look at the size of them," he says. "All our martinis are poured as doubles." The big drinks and big prices are his strategy--either confident or risky, take your pick--to encourage customers to linger.

9 pm: David, either drunk or a brilliant comedian, begins to tack on the title "Captain" to each drink. We can't handle the bar's high-end Belvedere and Chopin martinis any longer. We order Martini No. 15--Captain Caramel Apple. "I get it," says Merida, another music executive. "It's a martini bar for people who don't like martinis."

9:40 pm: Spurt of spontaneous dancing to trance music.

10 pm: Complete loss of communication skills imminent. Complete loss of memory of several flavored drinks. Must pass out and sleep, all for the love of sweet, sweet martinis.

* * * *

Gin and vodka aside, Bite Club needs to cut back on the liqueur-filled chocolates. In last week's column, we misidentified Elizabeth Montes, the nimble fingers behind Sahagún Handmade Chocolates, as Elizabeth Flores. Still, it seems Bite Club has some psychic link to the chocolatier: Flores is Montes' mother's maiden name. Bite Club regrets the error.


Don't subscribe to spendy suds? Bartini martinis are half-price during the bar's nightly "martini hour" (5 to 6:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays).
 
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